Science Briefs

November 24, 2013 

Old-fasioned favorite: Mayan chili pepper beverages

Chili peppers may have been used to make spicy beverages thousands of years ago in Mexico, according to new research published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Terry Powis at Georgia’s Kennesaw State University and colleagues from other institutions.

Capsicum species are usually referred to as chili peppers, and their uses are well known in the history of Spain and Portugal. There are relatively few sites in Mesoamerica, Central America, and South America that contain remains of Capsicum, and therefore, we know little about how groups such as the Mayans and the Mixe-Zoquean, inhabitants of the site studied here, used chili peppers in those regions.

In this study, the authors used chemical extractions to reveal the presence of Capsicum residues in pottery samples from a site in southern Mexico. Some of these pottery vessels were over 2000 years old, dating from 400 BC to AD 300.

They found Capsicum residue in multiple types of jars and vessels, which suggests that those cultures may have been using chili peppers for many different culinary purposes. Public Library of Science

Moon dust does accumulate … but slowly

When Neil Armstrong took humanity’s first otherworldly steps in 1969, he didn’t know what a nuisance the lunar soil beneath his feet would prove to be. The scratchy dust clung to everything it touched, causing scientific instruments to overheat and, for Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison Schmitt, a sort of lunar dust hay fever. The annoying particles even prompted a scientific experiment to figure out how fast they collect, but NASA’s data got lost.

Or, so NASA thought.Now, more than 40 years later, scientists have used the rediscovered data to make the first determination of how fast lunar dust accumulates. It builds up unbelievably slowly by the standards of any earthbound housekeeper, their calculations show – just fast enough to form a layer about a millimeter (0.04 inches) thick every 1,000 years. Yet, that rate is 10 times previous estimates. It’s also more than speedy enough to pose a serious problem for the solar cells that serve as critical power sources for space exploration missions.

American Geophysical Union

Biofuel from invasive plants? Not economical

Although invasive Asian carp have been successfully harvested and served on a dinner plate, harvesting invasive plants to convert into ethanol isn’t as easy.

According to a study at the University of Illinois, harvesting invasive plants for use as biofuels may sound like a great idea, but the reality poses numerous obstacles and is too expensive to consider, at least with the current ethanol pathways.

Lauren Quinn, an invasive plant ecologist at Illinois, explored the idea of harvesting invasive plants from many angles but said that the overarching problem is the non-sustainability of the profit stream: “From a businessperson’s perspective, it just doesn't function like a typical crop that is harvested and then replanted or harvested again the following year. Here, land managers are trying to get rid of an invasive plant using an array of methods, including herbicides, so there wouldn’t necessarily be multiple years of harvest.” news.aces.illinois.edu

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